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Prep work for Arctic drilling OK’d

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has given permission to Shell Oil to begin what it calls “preparatory work” in its controversial effort to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday that the permission will allow Shell to install a blowout preventer ahead of exploratory oil drilling. The preparatory work involves drilling to install the needed equipment, but the drilling will avoid pockets of oil and gas, Salazar said.

Shell still has other hurdles to cross before it can actually drill for oil – and winter deadlines are looming.

Thus far, Shell’s efforts to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska have been delayed by a series of glitches, including the lack of federal certification for the barge Arctic Challenger. The barge is an integral part of the spill-response system.

Shell had initially planned to drill up to five exploratory Arctic wells over the summer, but has now scaled its plans back to one or two wells. So far, no new wells have been drilled.

For the company to proceed, it needs federal certification of the Challenger, a 38-year-old barge retrofitted to float between drilling rigs in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. In the event of a well blowout and oil spill, the Challenger would deploy a large dome to capture the oil at the wellhead, bring it to the water’s surface and pump it into a storage tanker.


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